The book of First Corinthians is a letter to a messed-up church. The Apostle Paul had planted the church in Corinth during his second missionary journey when he spent 18 months there. A few years later, while in Ephesus, he had gotten word of some serious problems in the church, and though he planned to address them in person (see 16:5-7), he decided to write out his response. As the apostle sat down to pen the letter, the Holy Spirit took over and the result is a document of amazing theological depth and pastoral guidance that benefitted not only the church at Corinth, but every church of every age.
In his greeting to the Corinthians, Paul reminded them that their local church was a part of the universal church, “all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.2). Along with all believers everywhere, the church at Corinth was made up of people who had been transformed by the grace of God, gifted by the Spirit of God, and called into the fellowship of the Son of God (v.4-9). Having shared these words of affirmation, Paul quickly got to the reason for his writing.
The church at Corinth was divided, split into factions by immaturity and immorality. There was blatant adultery going on in the church (chapter 5), members were filing lawsuits against each other (chapter 6), and they even fought over which preacher they liked best. They were focusing on the personalities of the preachers to the exclusion of the message of the preachers — the gospel of Christ. By mentioning the name of Christ 14 times in the first 17 verses, Paul was sending a clear message about where a church’s focus should be: squarely on the Head of the church, the Lord Jesus. As a preacher, my goal is not (and should never be) to attract followers of my preaching, but rather to point people to Jesus, to the gospel, to the power of the cross (v.17).
I strive to maintain a clear gospel focus in my preaching, a cross-centered intentionality. I am aware that preaching “sermons” about how to manage your time, how to balance your checkbook, and how to get along with your mother-in-law are more attractive to the culture and more palatable to the “wisdom of the world” (v.20). I am aware that the world considers gospel preachers — and those who listen to them — to be fools. But “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise” (v.27). And I know that the only kind of preaching that contains the power of God (v.18, 24) is preaching that exposes sin, exalts the crucified-and-risen Savior, articulates grace, and calls for a response of faith. If that kind of preaching is considered foolishness, let me be a fool — a fool for Christ!
The key to church unity is not uniformity (no individuality allowed) or unanimity (no diversity of opinion allowed), but each member’s undivided focus on what truly matters: that Jesus Christ is Lord.